Purk granted new trial

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TOLEDO – Tait Otis Purk, 51, had his 1st degree murder by an Iowa County Jury in May of this year set aside by Tama County District Court Judge Mitchell E. Turner and a new trial granted. He was convicted by the jury in the death of his fiance, Cora Ann Okonski, then age 23, in 2000.

The order was filed in Toledo shortly after 3 p..m on Monday Aug. 14. In the order, the judge wrote, in part, “the verdict is contrary to the evidence and lack of evidence presented at the trial. The Court further finds that the credible evidence produced at trial preponderates heavily against the verdict, and that therefore the Defendant must be granted a new trial.

Prosecutors Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan and Tama County Attorney Brent Heeren said in joint statement after the order was filed: ” The state is reviewing the court’s ruling and considering all options including any legal challenges that may be available. We are disheartened that a jury verdict was not allowed to stand in this case.

Sentencing, following new dates being delayed three times had been for this Friday, Aug. 18. The case was moved to Iowa County on a change of venue from Tama County. Purk had been indicted on Dec. 2, 2016, by a Tama County Grand Jury.

Motions and objections to a directed verdict of acquittal and a new trial were heard by Judge Mitchell on July 14 with additional briefs allowed to be filed later.

Okonski vanished on April 15, 2000 from the home she shared with Purk in Tama.

Neither has her body ever been found nor, it was contended by the prosecution, had she herself been seen since.

The cold case of her disappearance was reopened in 2015 by a special teems of Iowa Department of Criminal Investigators with assistance from the Iowa Attorney General and Tama County Attorney’s offices, Tama Police and the Tama County Sheriff’s Office.

Testimony in the trial from two witnesses claimed Purk admitted to killing Okonski and burying her body.

Purk denied in testimony committing the crime and said Okonski had left the residence and did not return that night nor thereafter.

Additional excerpts from Judge Turner’s Aug. 14 order: “, because the State was allowed to introduce prior bad acts (charged and uncharged crimes) of the Defendant under the guise of attempting to prove motive, and thereby premeditation, an inordinate amount of prior bad acts testimony was presented to the jury.

Because of the Court’s earlier findings that the grant of a new trial is warranted based upon a weight of the evidence analysis, it is not necessary to revisit the Court’s trial and pretrial rulings regarding the admissibility of this evidence. The Court is concerned, however, that the jury was far more likely to lump them all together and consider them as “propensity evidence,” and simply conclude that the Defendant is a very, very bad man. While such a finding is not in anyway determinative in terms of the Court’s decision to grant the Defendant’s request for a new trial, it is part of the overall tenor of this case which leads the Court to conclude that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that the credible evidence preponderates heavily against the verdict of Murder in the First Degree